Remembering the Mailman's March of 1963
 — Muriel Tillinghast, 2017

See The Mailman's March ~ Murder of William Moore for background & more information.

Getting the article on William Moore gave me the push to finally write what little I knew about him for posterity's sake as well as my own. I am very appreciative of getting the article on him. Then as now, I thought of him as a rare kind of person, maybe one too trusting, but strong in his beliefs. I like that. The Movement was sprinkled with similar souls, people of greater humility and humanity thrust among the rest of us — all of whom were special people in my regard.

When we were in NAG (the Nonviolent Action Group), The Hilltop, the university's newspaper office, became a satellite office for us frequently taken over by our arguing, planning and strategizing as we were wont to do endlessly. On this particular day of that particular year, a call came in. It was from Bill Moore and I took it. As memory serves, there were the on-going discussions and debates between Carmichael and the newspaper's editor, so they were pre-occupied and somehow I was near a phone and open to conversation. Bill Moore introduced himself and told me about his plans to walk south. He knew about our work in D. C.; we had probably bumped into each other, one way or another, through NAG's work along Route #40.

In a conversation I can barely recall, we settled into an easy chat, so some points of familiarity must have been hit and mutually acknowledged. We talked for a good while. We talked about the danger of his journey south because that is how we talked then, keeping each other alert and on point. And then, the words finally ran out and our conversation came to the end. He was moving on out the next day as I remember, leaving Baltimore and he was saying "good bye" to his Movement friends in the North to start his journey alone. Why alone? Maybe no one else that he immediately knew wanted to go along. For them, maybe the danger outweighed the good to come, and so there were no takers. As was the norm, I am sure that we said that we would reconnect when he returned home after he delivered his letter to Ross Barnett, then Mississippi's governor, a man I held in the lowest political and personal esteem. We thought that he would return; I do not believe that we ventured into discussion about his possible fatality, but be assured, that thought was ever present, if unspoken. We were in that kind of work and it was that kind of America. So in finality, I hailed him on and he was gone. The rest is history as incomplete as it is.

I have often thought about our chance conversation and his great sacrifice. There were many sacrifices for the Movement in those days. Bill, as a white Brother was a man of vision and courage. He was steeped in the hope that the country was better than it was, that people were actually better than their furor indicated they were prepared to be and that in their Christianity, they could be shamed in recognition of their sinning against their own beliefs. If nothing else were to come of this, then a more civil behavior was a hope. Having been raised in the South, he knew first-hand that white people were fundamentally steeped in and misguided on issues of race. Maybe by his example, just maybe, a gateway to change could be opened, to help some reconsider and turn things around to do better.

When I learned that he was killed, I wasn't surprised but, I was dismayed. This was undoubtedly another loss to us in the Movement. We were young and this just fired us up more, made us resolve even more strongly our challenge to the system and weighing its costs as our Movement was officially nonviolent. > Being shot in the back is a cowardly act anywhere. But, the South had long given itself over to wanton acts of murderous cowardice to shut up voices they didn't want to hear. Nonetheless, to have lurked in the night, waiting for a single, sign-wearing, foot-tired man, walking in silence on his one-man mission tells us several things about the man, the killer(s) and the country. Bleeding to death on a lonely highway in the Alabama night at the hands of at least one killer, Bill Moore's family lost a wonderful, caring husband and father. He was irreplaceable. For the Movement, he was a hero and a martyr, underscoring the blood and loss racial change was to cost going forward.

We know that Bill had walked a long way by foot and had been seen my many, so his message was getting out. His letter to Barnett never arrived; it probably went the way of the "Eat at Joe's" sign torn from the rear sign that he carried. We know that Bill had grit and determination, personal strength and perseverance. His journey was a long trek and he was almost there. His walk tells us that he believed in the best aspirations of democracy and he showed us the distance we, as nation, have yet to travel. He was a worker, an average guy who thought for himself, who was unafraid to take on the big tasks which civil rights work certainly was. Bill Moore could bear the weight of our many hopes against the grain of America's evils even as a single individual. William Moore, a white, working-class, southern man — one has to admit — he was extraordinary.

The situation also gives us an indication of the low level of thinking and action anti-racism workers frequently encountered. The culprit was never found — probably never even searched for — and that, too, is a tragedy. William Moore lost his life in the cause not only of others and for himself as a true American, to save America from its own rot.

And, of the hand that fired the gun to bring this man down in the dead of night, the nasty deed. ... It championed violence over the hope of peaceful change, backwardness over forwardness, criminality over civil behavior, murder as an appropriate way to shut out and shut up people in a country long given to this as a norm to control people of color, particularly Black people. Over glasses of whisky, moonshine or beer, these reprobates probably cheered each other for a deed well done whether or not it was on the sly because their vision of yesterday was better than their vision of tomorrow, though tomorrow is coming anyway.

Copyright © Muriel Tillinghast


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